NASHVILLE, Tenn.—State Senator Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), Senator Doug Overbey (R-Maryville), Representative Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville), Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and Tennessee Commissioner of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Doug Varney held a press conference today with officials of the Helen Ross McNabb Center to launch the creation of a new pilot project designed to help people suffering from mental illness or severe emotional disturbance receive help in an outpatient setting. The project was authorized under a new law, which took effect on July 1st, sponsored by Massey, Overbey, Haynes and Representative Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville). When it is up and running it will allow specialized health care professionals to provide comprehensive outpatient services for 10 or more people suffering from mental illness to keep them from being hospitalized in a psychiatric facility or from being confined in jail on minor charges.
“This pilot program is a first start in addressing the mental health needs we are seeing in our communities,” said Senator Massey. “We find far too many people with mental health needs are confined in psychiatric hospitals when they can be helped in the community — or in our local jails as a result of their condition, which are not equipped to deal with the specialized medical attention needed to treat them. We need to stop the revolving door that keeps these patients from repeatedly being admitted into these facilities by getting them the help they need to get their illness under control on a long-term basis.”
“As the premier provider of mental health services in East Tennessee, the Helen Ross McNabb Center understands firsthand that individuals with an untreated mental illness typically end up in one of four places; emergency rooms, jail, on the streets or a cemetery. Data shows that treatment works and recovery is possible for individuals to live successfully in their communities. The Center fully supports a program that works to help individuals with an untreated mental illness receive quality and compassionate care. The Center is ready to help launch the first program of its kind in the state of Tennessee,” states Andy Black, CEO/President of the Helen Ross McNabb Center.
Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) allows a court of competent jurisdiction, with clear and convincing evidence, to order certain individuals with mental illnesses to comply with treatment while living in their community. The state will provide $125,000 per year for the two-year pilot project. Overbey said the project is timely in conjunction with the closing of Lakeshore Mental Health Institute.
“I have great confidence that this project will result in positive changes regarding the overall well being of these patients and their families,” Overbey said. “At the same time, I believe it will be cost-efficient for government over the long run.”
Similar legislation was introduced by Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett who served in the General Assembly before being elected to his current post. Burchett said outpatient treatment laws try to keep citizens, who in view of their treatment history are unlikely to survive safely in the community without supervision, on their medicine. His legislation was originally modeled after New York state’s Kendra’s law. That law was named after Kendra Webdale, a young woman who died in January 1999 after being pushed in front of a New York City subway train by a person who was living in the community at the time, but was not receiving treatment for his mental illness.
“Twenty-five percent of these citizens are veterans,” Burchett added. “We owe it to these citizens to give them the assistance they need. The number one mental health facility in Tennessee is the Shelby County jail. This shows the need for programs like the one launched today. I look forward to seeing this program’s success and in seeing it expanded.”
“Mental illness affects all Tennesseans and I am glad this legislation was passed,” said Representative Haynes. “Hopefully we will be able to expand this pilot project to all Tennesseans so that people with mental illness can get the care they deserve.”
“We are looking forward to the implementation of the AOT pilot program in Knox County as this program is uniquely tailored to meet the needs of certain consumers and their families. We are excited to see what valuable lessons this pilot program teaches us as we embrace and study ways to improve the continuum of care in our state’s mental health system,” said Commissioner E. Douglas Varney, Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.